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It’s January 2016 in Connecticut, and it’s cold. It’s the kind of cold that leaves the state’s population of 4,500 homeless people in a tough position. But that doesn’t stop the volunteers and employees at the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH) from conducting the Point-in-Time Count, an annual survey that takes place during one specific week of the year that aims to understand homelessness throughout the country.

Volunteers are hitting the streets with clipboards in hand to administer paper surveys to the state’s homeless population in hopes of finding clear paths to get them help. However, some of them have trouble getting answers to the questions. The paper survey feels too much like a test or quiz, and contains sensitive questions regarding drug abuse and mental health, which can be intimidating.

Paper surveys cause a number of security concerns as well. Hard copies have to be carried with volunteers as they navigate streets and shelters to get the data. Once the surveys are filled out they go back to be entered into the system by hand. The process is slow and demanding, and they have a tight deadline to meet.

Collecting accurate data is critical for CCEH. It allows them to report information to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) so they can get the resources needed to carry on with their mission of eradicating homelessness. This means they need better tools to drive data collection. They need something user friendly, secure, and adaptable. They need a digital solution.

Fast forward to January 2017 and something truly innovative is happening to help solve the homeless crisis.

Collecting data for a brighter future

After years of collecting data through paper surveys, CCEH partnered with Microsoft to go digital and create the We Count app. The app allows volunteers to fill out surveys from their mobile device to transfer and store data in-real-time on a secure server. This makes the tight deadline of one week to complete the Point-in-Time Count not only more achievable, but more impactful.

By partnering with Microsoft, CCEH leveraged Xamarin, a platform that facilitates application development for mobile devices, and Azure, to digitize its data collection, and give workers a modern approach to data collection.

“We have been really successful this year in using technology to our benefit. It’s 2017 now; we don’t need to walk around with clipboards anymore,” says Brian Roccapriore, Director of Homeless Management Information Systems and Strategic Analysis at CCEH.

Modern data collection has given CCEH increased capabilities to achieve their goals of showing the true scope of the homeless problem, and take steps to solve it. It has also provided the organization a stronger capacity to connect homeless populations to critical services, as well as unify more homeless youth with their families.

“It’s really the success stories at the end of this. It’s youth who got connected to that housing program, the youth who was able to reunite with their family, the one who got the help they needed to get back on track – that’s really what matters,” says Brian.

Watch the video below to learn more about CCEH’s digital transformation and fight to alleviate homelessness.

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